CHICAGO - Continuing to deliver on his promise to promote entrepreneurship and innovation, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced that the Western Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network is receiving $500,000 in new funding, along with grant awards that totaled $60,000 from the Western Illinois Entrepreneurship Center in Macomb to local entrepreneurs to assist with their promising ventures and help develop them into marketplace success.
"Entrepreneurial activity has become the most important job growth engine of the national economy, and the guiding force behind the Western Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network is to capitalize on this growth by helping entrepreneurs succeed and create new jobs across the region. By investing in promising firms with high growth potential and giving them the resources they need to take their ventures to the next level, we’re not only fostering their individual success, but fueling more vigorous economic growth in communities across Western Illinois," Gov. Blagojevich said.
The Western Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network (WIECN), composed of three entrepreneurship centers located in Galesburg, Macomb and Quincy, is designed to act as a regional hub that coordinates all small business development, entrepreneurship training and development activity in the Western Illinois region, and provides entrepreneurs with the tools they need to make their ventures successful. The Entrepreneurship Network also includes a partnership with economic development centers across Illinois funded by DCEO, including the Small Business Environmental Assistance program, Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC), International Trade Centers (ITC), NAFTA Opportunity Centers (NOC), Illinois Technology Enterprise Centers (ITEC) and Illinois Manufacturing Extension Centers (IMEC).
"Gov. Blagojevich and I strongly believe that the talents and ingenuity of small firms are worth investing in. The Western Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network is helping small or start-up companies clear some of the tough hurdles they face at critical stages. By helping these young companies compete and prosper, we are fostering more widespread economic growth and job creation across this region," State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) said.
The Western Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network offers challenge grants and a number of other specialized resources for its clients. The awards assist entrepreneurs or small businesses with obtaining professional services for comprehensive business plan assistance, evaluation of a proposed start-up or expansion or other accelerated support purposes. Award funding is determined based on the potential for successful achievement of a significant business milestone for client firms.
Since the three e-centers comprising the Western Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network have opened, they have combined to provide $213,000 in challenge grant awards to 39 local companies, spurring an estimated $250 million in revenue growth and 540 new jobs in the nine- county region over the next three years.
Gov. Blagojevich announced the awarding of new challenge grants to:
Bridgeway Training Services, a Macomb company, has recently opened a metal shop with diverse equipment and a highly skilled workforce able to produce a wide variety of metal fabricated products. Its metal shop has been developing a new product, a heavy-duty aluminum snowplow that will be competitively priced and marketed for use on multiple vehicles. It is using a $5,000 grant award to develop a prototype of the snowplow and marketing materials to promote the product.
George Richbark & Co. in Macomb is developing a combination of computerized Kiosk systems with customized software for use in antique stores. The technology will allow customers to quickly search for items of interest in antique malls that might otherwise be missed, while allowing antique store owners to track inventory. The company is using a $10,000 challenge grant to develop a prototype software package.
Carthage Veterinary Service, located in Carthage, targets swine producers domestically and internationally, providing a wide range of services specifically designed for each heard and producer, including production alternatives, vaccination programs, diagnostics, cost benchmarking, environmental reviews and many other unique programs. The company is using a $10,000 grant to help develop a swine production training multimedia CD that includes audio, video, animation and pictures to provide a new and engaging experience for the target audience to learn about swine production.
The Glass Bracelet is a Macomb-based direct sales jewelry company with 60 active sales consultants that conduct in-home parties to market and sell the product. The company is currently expanding into the expo market and increasing its number of sales consultants. It is using a $5,000 challenge grant award to implement a web-based order entry and reporting interface for consultants and distributors that will help it efficiently accommodate its growing customer base.
The Pineapple Inn is a historical home in Macomb turned into a bed and breakfast. The business is now looking to boost marketing efforts to increase awareness and overall business. It is using a $5,000 challenge grant to develop a marketing plan that will help it accomplish this.
Oak Grove Organics, based in Carthage, is a new business venture dedicated to the production of high-quality USDA certified organic milk, cheese and butter. Its products are available through Wild Oats and Whole Foods Stores in Chicago and select regional grocery stores. The company was awarded $15,000 from the 2005 Business Plan Competition, which it is using to conduct a market survey that will help further develop its customer base.
Cheap Controls, based in Monmouth, is a start-up business developing wall mounted electronic hardware to serve as an audio-visual system controller in "e-classrooms." It is using a $5,000 challenge grant award to develop a prototype.
DenLine Uniforms Inc. is a Quincy-based business specializing in the design, manufacturing and marketing of personal protective apparel for health care workers that are in compliance with OSHA directives. It is using a $5,000 challenge grant award to help increase sales, which the company estimates will grow by 20 percent this year.
There is also an IEN Web site, www.ienconnect.com, featuring a free business needs assessment and a referral within 24 hours for personalized, face-to-face assistance. Entrepreneurs, who call toll-free to the IEN information center (800-252-2923), can also connect with service representatives who will assess their business concerns and direct them to the local resources that best meet their needs.
"The Western Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network is playing a critical role in helping young firms with high growth potential develop into economically viable and sustainable companies that will grow and create Illinois jobs. We’ve done our homework in studying the strengths and challenges of growing a small business, and these centers are designed to offer targeted services most in need by local entrepreneurs, including access to capital, markets, networks and technology," DCEO Director Jack Lavin said.
Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history. Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – each with a regional team that is empowered and expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges. Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses. It is about upgrading the skills of the local workforce, increasing the access to capital, opening new markets, improving infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs. Opportunity Returns is about successfully partnering with companies and communities, both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic potential.